By Steve Pike
Trophies and traveling bags fill Kevin Anderson’s Gulf Stream home, but the world’s No. 8-ranked men’s tennis player seems oblivious to all of it except for the little dog at the feet of his 6-foot-8 frame.
“This is Lady Kady,’’ Anderson told a visitor in his South African accent. “My wife and I got her from Dezzy’s Second Chance Animal Rescue. She’s a ‘Chiweenie,’ part chihuahua and part dachshund. We saw her at the green market a year ago this past January. We always wanted a dog and went for her. She travels with us.’’
Lady Kady’s arrival as Kevin and Kelsey Anderson’s traveling mate has coincided with a run of success in Kevin’s career. He made his first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open in September, losing to Rafael Nadal in three sets, and won the inaugural New York Open in February. It was the fourth ATP title of Anderson’s 11-year professional career and propelled him into the top 10 for the second time since 2015.
Following a quarterfinal loss at the Indian Wells Masters last month, Anderson returned to Gulf Stream to prepare for the Miami Open, where he also reached the quarterfinals, dropping a tiebreaker in the decisive third set.
His swift start to the 2018 season is in contrast to his 2017 start, which was marked by several early-round exits, including a second-round loss in Miami, as he attempted to come back from an injury-plagued 2016.
“Last year was more about recovery,’’ said Anderson, who trains at the Delray Tennis Center, ProWorld Tennis in Delray Beach and Boca Grove Plantation in Boca Raton. “There are no more injuries.’’
Anderson’s return to the top 10 and his runner-up finish at the U.S. Open — he was the first South African to reach a Grand Slam final since Kevin Curren at the 1984 Australian Open — means he has a target on his back. But that’s much easier to handle than knee and shoulder injuries.
“My goals are set. I know what I want to achieve this year,’’ said Anderson, who has dual South African and U.S. citizenship and plays under the South African flag. “One was to get back into the top 10, which I’ve done. I want to finish the year in the top eight and qualify for the London Masters.
“Each match is its own challenge, regardless of what has happened in the past. I can draw from previous experience — maybe from a Grand Slam setting — but now that I’m back in the top 10, I know every opponent I’m playing is looking to beat a top 10 player. I know what that was like when I was playing a top 10 player. But I’ve worked hard to be where I’m at and have confidence in my game.’’
Anderson points to hard work — whether on the hard courts of the Delray Tennis Center, the clay courts at Boca Grove and even the grass courts in golf legend Jack Nicklaus’ North Palm Beach backyard — and improved health as making the difference in his game. In other words, no switch suddenly flipped to take his game to the next level.
“It’s a long journey, so many lessons along the way and so many hours behind the scenes,’’ said Anderson, who turns 32 in May. “It’s impossible to pick out one thing. You’re constantly building a game and so many different assets you put together from a mental standpoint, physical standpoint and tactical standpoint.
“You keep trying to add to your game. Last year I made some good strides from a mental standpoint. I’ve always been a strong mental player. I’ve tweaked a few things and continue to understand what works for me. I think I’ve done a better job of sticking to that more often.’’
Anderson’s mental toughness has been compared with that of American Jim Courier, a Hall of Famer who won four Grand Slam titles in the 1990s. It’s probably no coincidence that among Courier’s coaches was Brad Stine, who now coaches Anderson.
Anderson has shown more emotion on the courts the past year, something he has consciously worked on.
“Enjoy those moments, take confidence in those moments, sort of show it to the world and show it to yourself,’’ Anderson said. “It’s on the way to becoming more natural, but still requires me to extend myself. Every now and then I can feel myself going back into that mode where I’m looking to see, but those are becoming few and far between. It makes it more enjoyable out there, too.’’
It’s also enjoyable, Anderson said, for him and Kelsey and Lady Kady to live in the Gulf Stream/Delray Beach area, which they have for five years.
“We travel around so much, just coming back here we don’t face the hustle and bustle,’’ Anderson said. “We can relax. It takes me 10 minutes to get to practice. There is no traffic. Just things like that. We’ve been here for a while now, so we really feel like it’s home.’’